When it is time to celebrate the life of a loved one who has passed away, it can be a stressful time full of decisions that need to be made. Trying to bring together all the elements may seem like a daunting task, trying to balance what needs to be done with honoring your loved one with deeply personal touches. Music can contribute to these services in many emotional ways. Here is a list of some songs to play at a celebration of life ceremony. For this list, we will be looking at songs that are not hymns and will focus on popular songs.
For a Parent
For many, celebrating the life of our parents brings an avalanche of emotions. Many songs that are appropriate for these celebrations reflect back on the accomplishments of their lives, while also referencing our parents as guardian angels after they are gone. We can focus on artists and songs that were meaningful to them, and that bring back great memories. If there are favorite songs that help you recall a specific meaningful time, then, by all means, add them to the list.
1. Holes in the Floor of Heaven – Steve Wariner
This beautiful tribute song is all about the imagery of how we are watched over by those who have left us. It can be a very comforting idea for those left behind.
2. In My Life – The Beatles
The Beatles deliver a poignant song about looking back at one’s life and being grateful for everything. Bette Midler also has a beautiful rendition of “In My Life” from the soundtrack of the movie “For The Boys”.
3. Lean on Me – Bill Withers
Celebrating our parents often means remembering how much we have needed them during their lives. We lean on our parents for so many reasons and a celebration of life is a great time to say that publicly through this classic nostalgic song.
4. Take Me Home, Country Roads – John Denver
The idea of losing a parent is so daunting, but we often find solace in thinking of them as “returning home”. We can be comforted by the idea that they are reuniting with others who have gone before them. John Denver’s unique voice and descriptive lyrics make this a great choice for anyone who longs for country imagery in their celebration of life.
FOR A CHILD
Most parents would say that there is nothing as hard as losing a child. No matter what the child’s age, it is always a hardship. During a celebration of life, music can be a calming reminder of the effect our children have on our lives and how much we love and miss them.
5. Candle in the Wind – Elton John
Long before Elton John rewrote the lyrics to this song as a tribute to Princess Diana, “Candle in the Wind” was a beautiful tribute to any life that was taken too soon.
6. Tears in Heaven – Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton wrote this song after tragically losing his own son in an accident. It is somewhat heartbreaking but also has notes of hopefulness regarding eternity and our ability to continue on after losing someone we love.
7. Forever Young – Rod Stewart
For those we lose young, they remain frozen in time. While this might sound sad, the song by Rod Stewart reminds us that staying “forever young” is not a bad thing. It offers blessings and good wishes, which can give a very positive vibe to your life celebration.
8. You Are The Sunshine of My Life – Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder’s joyous delivery is a happy way to celebrate loved ones.
For a Significant Other
There are so many songs dedicated to expressing a love that lasts an eternity. Whether it is a favorite song or one that says exactly how much you will miss someone, there are many choices for a celebration of life.
9. My Heart Will Go On – Celine Dion
Even when we lose our love, we can express that love while still remaining committed to living our lives.
10. Wind Beneath My Wings – Bette Midler
The Divine Miss M’s most well-known song is a fantastic way to pay tribute to those we have lost, and celebrate the way they have been our biggest supporters.
11. Bless the Broken Road – Rascal Flatts
The context of this song is that whatever difficulties we have experienced have brought us to where we are. It may be easy to wish away the tough times, but it all contributes to the life we have. If we are grateful to those who have brought meaning to our lives, we have to embrace everything that made that happen.
12. I Hope You Dance – Lee Ann Womack
Lee Ann Womack reminds us to remember that no matter how hard life can be, it’s important to notice the small things, have some fun, and dance (whether others are watching or not). The song is a celebration of life, so it is incredibly appropriate for a ceremony of remembrance.
13. Right Here Waiting – Richard Marx
While the song seems a little sad, it is also about someone consistently being there for you.
14. Here Without You – 3 Doors Down
The tone of this may be a little too sad for a more exuberant celebration of life, but it does a great job of expressing the longing for a loved one who has passed.
Many classic songs are used frequently at a celebration of life. Their popularity doesn’t mean we should exclude them from consideration. Consider that they are used so often because they do such a good job of capturing the mood of the day and how we feel about our loved ones.
15. Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley
Leonard Cohen wrote this song, but Jeff Buckley’s version is perhaps the best known. The lyrics are elusive, but it has a beautifully haunting effect.
16. Fire and Rain – James Taylor
Aside from James Taylor’s beautiful voice, “Fire and Rain” is another song about longing for someone who isn’t there.
17. Because You Loved Me – Celine Dion
This is a wonderful tribute to how love can transform our lives and help us to achieve great things in life. It says a lot about standing by someone through the good and bad times.
18. Have I Told You Lately – Van Morrison
Hopefully, this song reminds us how we have showered love on those dear to us during their lives.
19. What A Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong
This quintessential song is about seeing and appreciating everything our world has to offer. For those attending your celebration of life, this is a wonderful reminder to stay present and be grateful.
20. The Dance – Garth Brooks
There is no place for regrets at a celebration of life! This song reminds us that we can’t go back in time and change things—and if we could, there are some very important things we might have missed.
21. Remember Me This Way – Jordan Hill
What a beautiful tribute to a friend we love. The lyrics are the perfect tribute to someone we love deeply and the entire song is about remembering those we have lost.
22. Yesterday – The Beatles
Paul McCartney said this melody came to him in a dream and he immediately started writing it down after waking up. This reflective, somewhat mournful melody is a beautiful way to pay tribute to someone’s life. Just consider using some other, more uplifting songs around it.
23. Into the Mystic – Van Morrison
Melodic, upbeat but mellow, and beautifully sung, this song is an old-school anthem for anyone who considers themselves a free spirit.
24. My Sweet Lord – George Harrison
George Harrison sings a sweet and prayerful message of peace with an uplifting musical arrangement.
25. Sunshine on My Shoulders – John Denver
Once again, John Denver’s beautiful vocals remind us of the simple and beautiful things in life.
26. Over the Rainbow – Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
This remake by the Hawaiian-born Kamakawiwo’ole took the internet by storm in 1993. Sadly, he passed away in 1997, which has given additional poignancy to the songs he left behind.
27. You Raise Me Up – Josh Groban
Groban has recorded perhaps the most popular version of this song. He performed it at a NASA tribute to the victims of the Spaceshuttle Columbia disaster.
A celebration of life should be as unique as the individual it is celebrating. Don’t shy away from certain songs just because they seem a little different. Find the right song that expresses the individuality of your loved one.
28. Don’t You (Forget About Me) – Simple Minds
The sentiment of this celebration song is all about remembering someone who is important. Some of the lyrics make it an unconventional choice, but for many, it will evoke just the right tone.
29. Free Bird – Lynyrd Skynyrd
If your loved one is a fan of 1970s southern rock, you will undoubtedly want to include this in the list of songs to play at a celebration of life ceremony. Just remember that it starts out slow but ends with a faster rock and roll beat, so if you’re syncing this to a slide show of photos, plan accordingly.
30. Let It Be – The Beatles
This calming song with religious overtones may be more soothing for those attending a celebration of life, as opposed to remembering the departed. Its message is one of hope and a better tomorrow if we can only learn to let it be.
31. Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) – Green Day
This short, reflective song is all about transitions and moving on.
32. Home – Michael Bublé
Without a doubt, traveling is one of those activities that can make us appreciate home even more. When we lose someone we love, all those memories of home can be heightened. For our lost loved one, going home takes on new meaning.
33. A Whiter Shade of Pale – Procol Harum
Yes, this is a really odd choice. While some of the lyrics may be unfortunate, the tone of the song and the use of an organ in the instrumentation can make it fit for the right celebration.
34. Every Rose Has Its Thorn – Poison
This song reminds us to take the good with the bad. While it’s a somber thought, it can be appropriate for a celebration of life.
35. Don’t Worry, Be Happy – Bobby McFerrin
Hopefully, there is a lot of happiness during a celebration of life. The song doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it is beautifully performed.
36. Spirit in the Sky – Norman Greenbaum
The lyrics in this song are pretty spot on for a celebration of someone’s life. The upbeat tempo, uplifting vocals, and background clapping can get your celebration started. It’s a beautiful tribute song.
37. (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life – Jennifer Warns & Bill Medley
Life is a celebration! It is only fitting that we should celebrate every life that is lived. Sure, it can be sad, but there are also many reasons to acknowledge all of the things that make a life well-lived.
Think of all the ways that music has been a meaningful part of your life and those you love. Choosing the right celebration of life songs is a way to honor the person we have lost, but at the same time, they can offer comfort and solace to those left behind. By giving some thought to the person you are celebrating, there is a wealth of meaningful musical choices. With today’s technology, there is access to so many songs—take the time to find what will enhance the celebration of your loved ones and commemorate their lives.
As the Head Editor at Music Grotto, Liam edits content produced from over 30 professional music/media journalists and contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.